Here's the obscure new 232-page federal document that will help Biden find and replace any lingering Trump appointees

  • The federal government finally released an obscure federal document that will help the incoming Biden administration replace Donald Trump's political appointees.
  • The Plum Book — as it's unofficially known — is a coveted tool for incoming administrations looking to fill positions and job seekers who want to snag jobs in the executive branch.
  • "It's become the equivalent of the bible for understanding what the landscape is for political jobs in government," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the good government organization Partnership for Public Service.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The federal government has finally released an obscure 232-page government document central to the Biden administration's efforts to get its team in place by Inauguration Day.  

The Plum Book, as it's unofficially called, contains details about the roughly 9,000 coveted leadership jobs in the federal government. 

It normally arrives by early December of a presidential election year, just in time for the incoming White House team. 

But the new version was several weeks late this time around because of "technical questions" that the congressional publishing office raised with the Trump administration agency responsible for managing the federal government's workforce, according to a House Democratic aide familiar with the process.

Biden's transition team is looking to the Plum Book because it details some 4,000 executive branch political appointees from the Trump administration who are likely to be replaced in the government handover. 

For starters, it gives the incoming administration a comprehensive glimpse of which Trump appointees are working where in the government. That could be particularly important if the outgoing Trump administration doesn't take the customary step of asking political appointees to resign before Biden is sworn in. 

Some people in Biden's orbit are worried Trump will force Biden to purge the outgoing commander in chief's political appointees who don't resign by Inauguration Day. 

The Plum Book is also the most detailed look the public gets into who is working where inside the executive branch. Some of those details are posted on agency websites, but names and titles of political appointees across federal agencies aren't always posted publicly. 

Anyone looking for a job in Biden's administration will also want to scour the document. Federal hiring experts told Insider recently that the Plum Book should be job applicants' first stop so they can be specific about which positions they're angling for. 

"It's become the equivalent of the bible for understanding what the landscape is for political jobs in government," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the good government organization Partnership for Public Service. 


Publishing delay

The 2020 edition of the Plum Book got posted online by the Government Publishing Office on December 29, according to a senior Democratic aide for the House Oversight and Reform Committee. 

The House watchdog committee prepared the document using data provided by the Trump administration's Office of Personnel Management, which tracks federal hiring. 

That was weeks later than the document's December 5 release in 2016 and December 1 release in 2012, causing some federal government experts to worry about the delay as the Trump administration has slowed other presidential transition efforts. 

The House Democratic aide told Insider that the publication was stalled because the Government Publishing Office, part of the legislative branch, had technical questions for OPM. 

"Due to the delay in getting the technical questions answered, publication was a few weeks late," the aide said. 

An OPM spokesperson said that the data from the Plum Book was sent to the Government Publishing Office on November 13. 

Every four years, the publication of the document alternates between the House watchdog committee and its Senate counterpart, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In 2020, it was the Democrat-led House's turn.

"The Plum Book has for decades been an invaluable tool for incoming administrations to identify all federal government positions," House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) told Insider this week. "There are numerous pressing issues that the Biden-Harris Administration will have to address right away and having the complete list of roles to fill will put them in a stronger position to do so on day one."

'Bible of federal patronage' 

The Plum Book dates back to the presidential transition between the Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower administrations. 

Democrats had controlled the White House for two decades, and when Eisenhower was elected in 1952, his incoming GOP administration asked for a list of government positions the new president could fill, according to the Government Publishing Office.  

Although it's officially titled "United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions," the document became informally known as the Plum Book for the plum jobs it described, and "in 2000 a creative designer introduced a plum-colored cover," according to the late political columnist William Safire. He called the publication the "avidly awaited bible of federal patronage." 

There's been a push in recent years to modernize the process, making federal employment data easier to access for the public. Legislation stalled in both the House and Senate in 2020 that would require the executive branch to keep an up-to-date directory of senior government leaders online. 

The latest edition of the Plum Book includes data from June 30, 2020, meaning it's already outdated by the time it's published. And many of those officials will turn over later this month. 

"It's crazy if you think about it," Stier said. "It's a snapshot at the end of the administration that becomes out of date within weeks. … It's the equivalent of printing the Yellow Pages when all you need is an online directory that is kept up to date." 

The public knows about appointees who go through Senate confirmation, but many others are "flying below the radar screen until something goes wrong," Stier added. "These are important jobs with real consequence and we should know who's in them." 

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